What are the Romantic elements presented in "Song of Myself"?

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Many elements of Romanticism appear in Whitman's poem. Romantics celebrated nature as a spiritual force, exalted the common person, wrote in everyday language, and wanted to express deep emotion through their verse. All of these attributes permeate "Leaves of Grass."

The poem celebrates nature as a force of...

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Many elements of Romanticism appear in Whitman's poem. Romantics celebrated nature as a spiritual force, exalted the common person, wrote in everyday language, and wanted to express deep emotion through their verse. All of these attributes permeate "Leaves of Grass."

The poem celebrates nature as a force of revelation, implicit in the line:

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked

Nature will allow us to strip away the culturally imposed and superficial and become who we really are, a very Romantic concept.

Nature is also a spiritual force, a manifestation of the divine in the real world. Whitman, for example, calls the grass "the handkerchief of the Lord."

Whitman celebrates the cosmos and a radical democracy in which he sees everyone as as good as everyone else. Fundamental to Romanticism is a desire to reveal the good in the common people (this is why we talk, for instance, about "romanticizing" the poor). Whitman celebrates everyone and sees everyone as as a part of him, writing:

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

He expresses exuberance over all the common people of the earth, such as the butcher-boy, the blacksmith, and the negro.

He writes that

And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers

The tone of the poem also shows the emotion the Romantics love to express. The words pulse with a celebration of the energetic power of life. Whitman doesn't hide his enthusiasm or his embrace of the universe, but reveals it for all to see.

He also writes in simple, everyday language, as the examples above show, using words that most people easily understand.

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Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass exhibits elements of Romanticism in the expression of self, the mystical unity of all human experience, and in the equality regarding the individual and the world. Whitman as poet is a "seer" and an individual who is

...complete in himself...the others are as good as he, only he sees it, and they do not. [Walt Whitman Handbook]

In Section 48 Whitman declares,

I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul....
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's soul is....

Certainly, Whitman has a mystical interpretation of the Self. Moreover, he defines larger questions of life, such as religion, faith, God, and death mystically. In Section 5, for instance, the poet has a mystical experience between "Me" and "the Soul":

And I know that the Spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own,
And that all men ever born are also my brothers....
     and the women my sisters and lovers.
And that a kelson of the creation is love.

In Song of Myself there is an expression of universality: Whitman's thoughts are the thoughts of other men, and they are thoughts that transcend time. The poet sees God in the faces of others, and he has faith in himself. This perspective is not unlike that of the Transcendentalists, who were influenced by Romanticism. They respected the individual spirit and the natural world. Also, they believed that divinity was present everywhere, in nature, and in each person. Certainly, Walt Whitman's Song of Myself reflects elements of Romanticism such as emotion, love of nature, and praise and respect for individuality.

Additional Source: Allen, Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Handbook: Hendricks House, Inc. New York, 1962.

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Throughout this series of poems, Whitman presents a view of life where humanity enjoys an incredibly close relationship with nature, so close, in fact, that even when he imagines himself dying in Section 52 he believs that this will not impact upon his own sense of identity, as the following quote describes:

I depart as air... I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

Even though death is described as a "departure" at the beginning of this quote, at the same time it is also described as a kind of mystical union with nature, as Whitman imagines "bequeathing" himself to the earth. Even though he will be dead, the final line of this quote presents a very clear sense of tangible identity that remains even after this "death." Romanticism is therefore present in one sense through this very clear union with nature that exists throughout these poems, and challenges accepted notions of man's relationship with the natural world around him and pushes the boundaries of that relationship.

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